Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pet peeve #486: Christian platitudes

Yep, I'm always ranting about Christian platitudes. So here's another one:

Platitude spoken by Sunday school teacher: "If you're having trouble and battling Satanic attacks, then God is using you because Satan wouldn't bother you if you weren't going to trouble his plans/empire." 
(The equal and opposite of this platitude is also wrong: "Sister, everyone is suffering. The world is large so other people are suffering more than you.")

Why does this platitude go around? Who started it? 

I suspect some kind soul started the ball rolling in order to comfort the suffering. It was perhaps a response to the question, "Why is my life so hard? I must have done something wrong for God to be punishing me. And even if it is chastising and not punishment, I must be doing something wrong."

So, this statement aims to comfort by showing that God is not behind the evil that is happening in some sufferer's life. 

But as in all these cookie-cutter cake-baked half-baked Christian platitudes there are subtle evils in this statement ...and these subtle evils just lead to affecting one's heart. 

First the statement posits the idea that 

A) good people will suffer and that if someone is not suffering then that means the person is not good enough for Satan to bother them. But is that true? It's a nice platitude which equates the suffering of a Christian almost to Christlike level. But what does it to to the spirit of someone who drinks in such a statement, like water soaking into dry thirsty ground? And how does it make that sufferer think about those who have had only good happen in their lives? Yes, yes, there are such things as people who have had really good lives!

Do we envy the person with the good life? Do we go around listening to everything they say of their lives so we can "accept" that they have somehow "earned" their happy lives? Do they think that perhaps the other person has not been good enough for Satan to bother them? Do they think the happy person has not suffered enough to earn a happy Satanic attack free life? Do they get angry with Christians who have had a good life? 

And how does this affect our view of ourselves? Do we smugly sit by and say "Yes.. I am suffering, but it is because I have some great work to do. Satan is the cause of all my trouble because I am so good."

We then fall into the danger of thinking something like this: “Look how buffeted I am! Come not near me for I am more buffeted than thou!”

It is said that a legalist is someone who fears that somewhere a bad person is getting away with something. Legalists will quote Chapter 33 of Ezekiel. Even the heart of a Christian legalist tends toward legalism more than to love.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally believe sinners suffer and God blesses the good. But I want a heart that doesn't see evil in another's life (or my life) as proof of God working against me or that person. It trips a person up. It mires us in self-judging and takes us away from loving God because He truly loves us. Job's comforters are quick to see things that just may not be there. I remember being on a bus trip once. Not a church i generally went to but hey I was there that Sunday. And there was a drunk with a broken walk, staggering along and limping. Then the pastor's wife chirped up, "The wages of sin," and nodded pityingly smugly.

But who knows? Maybe he became a drunk after the accident, and maybe he was a good person before the accident. And if he did get into an accident because he was drinking too much, we still can’t judge because we don’t know what wounds he carried to make him turn to drink. The entire conversation just really bothered me. That she had the judgment in her heart was bad enough but that she had the nerve to say it.

The Bible tells asks, “Who are we to judge another man's servant?” And if we judge another, we have put ourselves back under the law and are now NO MORE under grace.

The legalist will say: “As Jesus loved the ‘sinners’ and reached out to them with parables, He also told them to ‘go and sin no more.’ So although we are NOT Jesus, I don't believe He would have us turn a blind eye to sin. True, we ARE under grace, but grace is NOT a license to sin.”

My response is: Jesus told us to remove the beam in our own eye before we take the speck out of someone else’s eye. We must love others and never have a heart that plugs people into little categories. I’m not saying it’s a license to sin. It’s just not a license for us to judge others. We must never, ever, ever defend our right to judge another person;
legalism is on one side, license is on the other and liberty in the middle. As David Pawson said, “Legalism is not free to sin; license is free to sin; liberty is free to not sin.”

The question is: If a Christian has trouble, their reaction to the trouble is often affected by how legalistic they are. Job is the oldest book in the Bible and it is dealing with bad things happening to a good legalistic person. We can get instruction from this book if we approach it honestly and let the book challenge us a we read it and see the strange legalistic things we believe. 

Jesus said that it is the heart that defiles the body because out of the heart comes sins such as adultery, pride, etc. The sin of spiritual pride is a subtle one. And really so many Christians —who would not let a gay person or an adulterer near them— are so full of defiling pride. Is it possible that it is the sin of religious “suffering” pride in our body that is getting in the way of grace working health to our bodies? 

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a story about a generous landowner who pays those who have only worked for one hour as much as he pays those who worked for an entire day? Needless to say those who had worked the entire day were somewhat legalistic and objected to the landowner’s generosity. The landowner then posed this question to them: “Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?”

A great Christian preacher said, "If there is one thing a legalist doesn’t like, it’s the idea that some bad person is getting away with being bad. Somewhere some bad person is being blessed by God. Legalism and the idea of fairness go hand in hand."

I remember hearing of a man who had won the lottery three or four times. The news bothered me. After all, the man wasn’t disabled or poor…luck just seemed to happen to him. It didn’t seem fair when there were so many poor people out there who could’ve used the money.

There was also a time when I would find myself getting angry at a gorgeous young educated woman who had what I considered a good life. Why hadn’t I had such a good life? Why did life go so smoothly for her? I would resent such a person, especially if they seemed to be happy and empty-headed. At last it occurred to me, I must learn to love people. Whether or not they are rich or poor, deserving or not. Love either kills the legalism in us or legalism kills love. Both cannot abide in the same place.

Legalism says such statements as, “I didn’t deserve to have this (bad) thing happen to me.”
OR “She didn’t deserve to have this (good) thing happen to her.

In Ecclesiastes 9:11, the Preacher says, “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

For the legalist, this is a bad thing because good should happen to those who “deserve” or “earned” it. But I have often considered myself lucky that the race is not always to the swift. There are many battles I have won which I should have lost, and there is much I do not understand. 

Yes, God will judge sinners. The adulterer, the murderer, the liar, even the coward will be judged. But judgment happens too easily in the legalist’s mind because there is always the tendency to compare one’s self with others, to rest on one’s own laurels, or to judge God and to think that God is being unfair.

What I want to do in life is to know how to love. That is all. And if it begins with God teaching me to be very careful what we hear and to not let the traditions and platitudes of men affect my spirit....then so be it. 

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